Selection Criteria for Children’s Books: Subjective Appeal

This post is the second in a series outlining selection criteria for children’s books.  The series starts here with “How to Choose Children’s Books,” if you want to read from the beginning.  Last time, in laying out the road map for this series, I introduced the notion of a book’s subjective appeal, i.e., the considerations that might make a book appealing to a child.  In this post I will begin discussing subjective appeal in more depth, and in particular I will argue for the importance of considering subjective appeal among the selection criteria for children’s books.

Selection Criteria for Children’s Books: Subjective Appeal

So, here is the central—and what I take to be very important—point: choosing a kids’ book with subjective appeal is not optional.  Rather, it is a crucial, non-negotiable part of the selection.  Now, this might go without saying for most of us: of course we aim to choose children’s books that kids will like!  However, this is not obvious to everyone.  I have in mind here a certain kind of parent or caretaker that tends toward the “all business” approach to child education and development.  This kind of adult might tend, at least sometimes, to read a book to a child because it is good for the child, regardless of the fact that the child would rather not be reading it.

I know that adults with this tendency are out there because I sometimes exhibit it myself!  For example, my wife and I are trying to help our children learn French from a young age.  Part of the way we encourage French language learning is by reading French language children’s books to them, such as a French translation of Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, called Bonsoir Lune.  My kids enjoy this to a certain extent, but they get tired of it pretty quickly, and when they do I sometimes turn into a book nazi, forcing them to attend to a book that they’re not enjoying.

However, this kind of practice—where we neglect what is enjoyable to a child—can have disastrous effects.  First of all, it tends to erode the child’s desire to be read to.  (My children are definitely less inclined to go back to the French language books after an episode like that.)  And that fact is, of course, terrible given all the amazing relational and emotional (not to mention cognitive) benefits that derive simply from an adult sitting down and reading a book to a child.

However, as if that were not bad enough, forcing a child to bear with a kids’ book they don’t like also erodes a child’s desire to read at all.  In other words, such a practice may well contribute to turning the child off of reading altogether.  Keeping in mind that what we want to cultivate in a child is a love of being read to, and a lifelong love of reading in general, it will be crucial to choose children’s books that a child will enjoy reading, i.e., kids’ books with subjective appeal.  After all, do you consistently read things you find boring or unappealing?

Subjective Appeal is Not Enough

There is one final caveat to my emphasis on the importance of considering subjective appeal when choosing children’s books: simply choosing a book that a child will like is also not enough.  Why?  Because sometimes children like books that are not so good for them (so do adults!).  For example, my kids love the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey (click here for my review), which I don’t think serves them well.

The implicit point here is that we, as adults, have certain developmental goals in mind for the children in our lives, so we also need to consider those goals when choosing children’s books (I’ll say more about what constitutes a book’s developmental value in future posts). So, given a child’s proclivity for certain forms of junky books, and given that we have certain developmental goals in mind for our children, that a book has subjective appeal for a child should not be enough to seal your choice, but it is a crucial start since it encourages a love of reading.  Plus it is just plain great to see a child enjoying something!

In the next post in this series, “Choosing Children’s Books with Age-appropriate Themes”, I will begin to discuss the particular factors that contribute to a book’s subjective appeal.  Specifically, I will take up the topic of the themes of appealing children’s books.

Thoughts? Start a discussion in the comments!

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